General Cleaning Contractors v Christmas [1954] AC 180

Law of Tort – Duty of Care – Work Safety  - Safe System of Work – Reasonable Care


The complainant, Mr Christmas, was a window cleaner who had worked for the defendant, General Cleaning Contractors, for 20 years. He was working on a cleaning contract of a building, which consisted of upper and lower areas, and this required him to clean from the inside and then go out onto a sill to clean the other areas. When Mr Christmas was cleaning, his fingers got trapped between the frames of the two sashes when it shut unexpectedly, which caused him to lose his balance and fall, suffering injuries.


The defendant appealed against liability. General Cleaning Contractors argued that Mr Christmas was a window cleaner with 20 years of experience in the trade and he should have recognised the risk from the sash windows before this accident happened.


The appeal was dismissed. Although it was not common for it to happen, it was known that sash windows had the potential to slip and close unpredictably. The defendants as an employer had not provided a safe system of work for their employee, Mr Christmas. It should not be down to individual workers to identify and take precaution against dangers in the workplace and the employer has a duty to provide safety instructions. Thus, an employer should always take reasonable care to provide a safe system of work for their employees, whether they have years of experience or not.